Influence of Cold-Water Immersion on Limb and Cutaneous Blood Flow after Exercise

Mawhinney, Chris1; Jones, Helen1; Joo, Chang Hwa1; Low, David A.1; Green, Daniel J.1,2; Gregson, Warren1,3

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2013 - Volume 45 - Issue 12 - p 2277–2285
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31829d8e2e
Basic Sciences

Purpose: This study aimed to determine the influence of cold (8°C) and cool (22°C) water immersion on femoral artery and cutaneous blood flow after exercise.

Methods: Twelve men completed a continuous cycle exercise protocol at 70% peak oxygen uptake until a core temperature of 38°C was attained. Subjects were then immersed semireclined into 8°C or 22°C water to the iliac crest for 10 min or rested. Rectal and thigh skin temperature, deep and superficial muscle temperature, thigh and calf skin blood flow (laser Doppler flowmetry), and superficial femoral artery blood flow (duplex ultrasound) were measured before and up to 30 min after immersion. Indices of vascular conductance were calculated (flux and blood flow/mean arterial pressure).

Results: Reductions in rectal temperature were similar (0.6°C–0.7°C) in all three trials (P = 0.38). The mean ± SD thigh skin temperature during recovery was 25.4°C ± 3.8°C in the 8°C trial, which was lower than the 28.2°C ± 1.4°C and 33.78°C ± 1.0°C in the 22°C and control trials, respectively (P < 0.001). Recovery muscle temperature was also lowest in the 8°C trial (P < 0.01). Femoral artery conductance was similar after immersion in both cooling conditions and was lower (∼55%) compared with the control condition 30 min after immersion (P < 0.01). Similarly, there was greater thigh (P < 0.01) and calf (P < 0.05) cutaneous vasoconstriction during and after immersion in both cooling conditions relative to the control condition.

Conclusion: Colder water temperatures may be more effective in the treatment of exercise-induced muscle damage and injury rehabilitation by virtue of greater reductions in muscle temperature and not muscle blood flow.

1Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UNITED KINGDOM; 2School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health, The University of Western Australia, Perth, AUSTRALIA; and Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence, Doha, QATAR

Address for correspondence: Warren Gregson, Ph.D., Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Tom Reilly Building, Byrom St Campus, Liverpool, L3 3AF, United Kingdom; E-mail:

Submitted for publication January 2013.

Accepted for publication May 2013.

© 2013 American College of Sports Medicine